On a campus with a population that is known for its passion for and devotion to activities, academics and internships, students often put health on a backburner. The university faced continued struggles this year addressing the problems that students encounter in maintaining their physical, mental and sexual well-being. These issues contributed to ongoing discussions on campus about the shortcomings of health resources available, the policies in place to support student health and possible improvements to both.
The issue of student physical health came to light in the aftermath of the death of Andrea Jaime (NHS ’17). Jaime, 19, died from a case of meningitis Sept. 16 at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
Two days after Jaime’s death, her case of meningitis was confirmed as bacterial, which requires immediate medical attention and is more serious than viral meningitis, potentially leading to brain damage.
“The tragic death of one of our students to a form of bacterial meningitis not covered by the available meningitis vaccine presented significant challenges in responding from a public health perspective,” Assistant Vice President for Student Health Services Jim Welsh wrote in an email this week reflecting on the incident. “In that response, over 100 students were prescribed prophylactic antibiotics within hours of learning of the diagnosis.”
In addition to providing antibiotics to those who could have come into contact with Jaime, the Student Health Center extended its hours and added extra staff.
Jaime’s death and the university’s response prompted several students to come forward and voice concerns about the quality of treatment that they had previously received at the Student Health Center and about the difficulty of scheduling an appointment there, though the center advertises walk-in appointments for students with pressing medical needs.
“I’d had a pretty bad cough for two weeks and was worried that I might have a fever, but I was on hold for about half an hour and they told me they couldn’t see me for two days,” Jenna Galper (COL ’17) said in September (“In Wake of Health Scare, Students Voice Concerns about Health Center,” A1, The Hoya, Sept. 30, 2014).
Welsh did not comment on any changes that have been made to the operations of the Student Health Center in order to address the concerns that students have expressed.
At the time, Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson said that he was not aware of any specific cases of students having trouble in making an appointment at the health center.
“With just about every office on campus, you can find students that say, ‘I wanted to get in but they couldn’t see me at the time I wanted,’” Olson said in September (“In Wake of Health Scare, Students Voice Concerns About Health Center,” A1, The Hoya, Sept. 30, 2014). “I’m not saying there’s never been a complaint, I’m just saying I’m not aware of particular complaints this semester.”
Mental health has been at the forefront of discussions about students’ well-being, especially after multiple students reported that they felt pressured to take medical leaves of absences by the Counseling and Psychiatric Services and after Thomas Lloyd (COL ’15) revealed that the university offered him little psychological support last spring after then-Georgetown-sophomore Daniel Milzman told Lloyd that he had produced ricin in his dorm room.
Other students have since come forward in campus media and relayed their difficulties with CAPS, from having trouble scheduling a timely appointment to being denied treatment in a time of need.
CAPS Director Phil Meilman stressed that CAPS has worked throughout the year with the Georgetown University Student Association and other student representatives in order to improve its services. Through this collaboration, CAPS revised its website in order to make its processes more clear and transparent for students.
“We are always looking to improve our offerings and we welcome constructive feedback,” Meilman wrote in an email to The Hoya.
However, Meilman acknowledged that the counseling service has limited resources to serve the large amount of students that it sees. Each year, around 10 percent of the student body goes to CAPS for counseling, resulting in a cumulative total of over 10,000 individual visits. The first one or two visits for evaluation and initial psychiatrist visit, as well as all group counseling sessions, are free, while ongoing mental health services for individuals result in a fee for each session.
“From an administrative perspective, the biggest challenge is to provide the greatest amount of service to the greatest number of students,” Meilman wrote. “We continue to work on this challenge, and we have increased the size of the staff over the past 10 years to better meet the demand.”
Sexual health was also a prominent issue this year for Georgetown, which ranked 93rd out of 140 colleges on Trojan Brand Condoms’ 2014 Sexual Health Report Card.
Bert Sperling, a researcher who worked on the report card, said Georgetown’s low ranking is due to the limited sexual health resources available to students.
“The [hospital-treated infection] and [sexually transmitted infection] testing is certainly very good. But as far as information provided to the students, there is not a lot. It is up to the students to find their own information. There is not a focus on sexual health,” Sperling said in February (“GU Ranks Low in Sexual Health,” A1, The Hoya, Feb. 6, 2015).
In addition to being scored based on condom availability, STI testing and sexual health outreach, universities were scored on their sexual assault resources and services.
After the institution of the “I Am Ready” program during New Student Orientation to engage incoming students on the topic of campus sexual assault, the university introduced an updated sexual misconduct policy in the fall. The policy limited the size of hearing panels in sexual misconduct cases from three faculty or staff members and two students to two faculty or staff members and one student. Additionally, outside investigators now look into all complaints before a hearing is conducted. The university also released a Survivor Bill of Rights.
The policy changes came at the guidance of the White House and the Office of Civil Rights.
“I think we’ve seen a lot of positive changes this year. We’ve seen a lot more support from the administration and a lot more support from the federal government,” Sexual Assault Peer Educator Haley Maness (NHS ’15) said.
However, Maness said that there are still significant changes that can be made to help survivors, including better faculty training. While most faculty members have had online sexual assault training, Maness wants to see a more in-depth and discussion-based program.
Additionally, Maness said that there needs to be more student awareness on campus, and she is lobbying for the creation of a MyAccess page with information about resources and mandatory reporting.
“Even though we’ve seen some positive changes, it’s not nearly enough,” Maness said.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.